Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 22nd 2015 Contents A22
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 22, 2015
When I think of Paris I
think of Valerie Gauriat,
now the International Affairs
reporter for Euronews. Decades
back she was my classmate at
university in London, who sang
Summertime like I imaged Edith
Piaf would. It was Valerie who
lent me her apartment near a
train line in London one Christ-
mas when I was a broke student.
It was at Valerie’s parents’ home
in Paris that I went to the best
party ever—wine, exuberance,
existentialism, endless possibility.
Imagine my joy, then, last
week, when she rang to say she
was shooting for Euronews, that
she could meet another friend
and myself. After a late dinner at
a Turkish restaurant, a cigarette,
we waved goodbye somewhat
Days later, on November 13,
Paris terror: mass shootings, sui-
cide bombings, hostage taking in
Paris, which killed 120 people
and injured 352. The following is
Valerie’s eyewitness report of that
night in Paris:
“Do you have a light? I had
just been dining out with my
parents, and lingered behind
them as they went home, to
smoke a cigarette. A phone rang.
And another. A third: 18 dead at
the Bataclan. Hostages. Shootout.
Hell had broken loose on a quiet
and unusually warm November
evening. Is it true? It was, alas,
so true, and only the beginning. I
rushed to my parents’ house. The
night was short, yet desperately
endless, as the gruesome news
“The fumes of the hours of night-
mare hang over Paris the next morn-
ing like lead. The emblems of the
French capital lonely in the neigh-
bourhoods of the Rive Droite. Eiffel
tower: closed. Trocadero, Champs
Elysées, Place de la Concorde:
deserted. Soldiers, standing guard,
in full gear, in front of the National
Assembly. The police. State of emer-
gency. Gravity in everyone’s eyes.
“The city shivered, despite
warmth in the air. The usually
thriving weekend food markets
was closed down. Canopies,
perched on their high, skinny
wooden legs hang miserably over
emptiness. Skeletons of the life
we so much take for granted. Life
at a standstill. They killed our
youths. They killed our joy. They
fired their wild demented rage at
all the values that they so loathe,
and we so love. We will not yield
to fear, we will not yield to
hatred, gently swept through the
crying city. We will not let them
win. Soldiers, police, rifles.
“‘Stand together’, went the
quiet song, mingling with the
shrieks of sirens, everywhere.
Crowds queuing to donate blood.
Blood for blood. Love for hate.
Paris is an open wound. A mes-
sage on my phone. A Lebanese
friend. ‘After Lebanon, France,
my second country is bleeding,
and so is my heart.’ Yes, it is not
just about us.
“People queuing at hospitals
and hastily set up crisis cells.
They are seeking loved ones. All
victims have not been yet identi-
fied. The uncertainty is unbear-
able for those who stagger weari-
ly in front of the places where
they know they might be told
what they do not want to hear.
Doctors and rescue teams work
relentlessly. Silent heroes of the
tragedy, they have seen the
“Bataclan, Petit Cambodge, Car-
illon: flowers and candles piling up
behind the police cordons. Despite
recommendations for people not to
gather, place de la Republique attracts
Parisians like a magnet. Marianne
wears a gown of flowers; hundreds
of small flames alight, words of trib-
ute and sorrow, at her feet. The
world sends its compassion, lighting
its monuments in Blue, White and
Red. Another spews hate on social
media. Monday. School has resumed.
We go to the Lycée Voltaire, a few
blocks away from the scenes of the
attacks. A mixed, bustling neigh-
bourhood. They cried after the
minute of silence for their friends
who died. They are eighteen.
“We inherit from your genera-
tion, a world of chaos, war and
destruction, they tell us. ‘Is it
worth having children?’ asks
“‘There is no place left in the
world that is safe anymore,’
answers Sacha. ‘We have to go
on and live our lives. We will go
to the concert again. And again.’
But fear has spread its poison. A
slamming door, a firecracker, a
fallen table; groups of shrieking,
crying people spill onto the
streets in panic. False alerts. Spe-
cial forces reassure them. They
worry there are too many people
outside, will we be able to cope
if things go wrong?
“The manhunt. The long wait.
Barbes, a mixed neighbourhood
north of Paris. Rachid is tired
and wary. The fear of stigma.
“Muslims must speak out! We
cannot let them kill in our name!
Then: Close the borders! Too
many migrants! The Syrian pass-
port! A young man, blindfold
with a keffieh, stands at Place de
la Republique, bearing a sign: “I
am a Muslim. Some say I’m a
terrorist. I trust you. Do you
trust me? So give me a hug.”
One after the other, they do.
Tears on the blindfold.
“They shot at our youth, they
shot at our future, they shot at
our diversity, and they shot at all
races, creeds and religions. They
want to divide us. They want to
sow the seeds of hatred in the
minds of our youths, enroll them.
‘We will not allow it,’ say
Stéphane, Djamila Anne,Nick,
Asta, Precilia, Ciprian. Say 129
voices that roar in the heart of
“Wednesday 3 am: I am at place
de la République, for an interview
with an American TV network
amidst silhouettes of youths, rekin-
dling the fragile flames of the can-
dles. Couples huddled together, star-
ing at broken dreams. A taxi ride
back home through the city. The
shriek of sirens fades into the night.
The phone rings. It has started again!
Explosions and gunshots at Saint
Denis! Quick. I get up, get dressed,
and find a cameraman. Soon the
world is pointing its lenses at the
police cordons. Behind the fence of
tripods and microphones, residents
are stunned. The police reassure us.
The raid is over. Questions. How did
these people get here? What is
Europe doing? What is the world
doing? In Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in
Afghanistan? Oh, did you hear? A
market blew up in Nigeria.
The world’s tears have con-
verged in Paris.
Identified. The ringleader is
dead. My heart beats slower. For
the believers, Alhumdoulilah.
Mazeltov. Thank God. Dieu
merci, whoever that is. Who’s
Aweek tomorrow, the UN
Climate Change Conference
opens in Paris. It’s a last-ditch
attempt to get a binding global
agreement on greenhouse gas
emissions. It meets under cloudy
skies. Paris is reeling from the
Isis attacks on Friday 13, just
over a week ago. Isis murdered
129, wounded 352, and gave a
hard knock to France’s open
So why Paris? And why now?
My fellow columnist Marc de
Verteuil has a plausible join-the-
dots proposal. Isis had assets in
place, ready for a spectacular
attack as world leaders gathered
for the climate summit.
Last week Thursday, an Amer-
ican drone killed high-profile Isis
militant Jihadi John in Raqqa, its
Syrian operating centre. The day
before, Kurdish and Yazidi forces
with American air support
kicked Isis out of the Iraqi bor-
der town of Sinjar.
Isis wanted to hit back hard
and fast. They were bounced
into unleashing their Paris oper-
ation before its planned date.
Instead of the climate summit,
they hit a football match at the
national stadium; a concert; and
the nightlife district around the
Place de la Bastille.
Transpose all that to Port-of-
Spain—it’s like simultaneous
attack on Jean Pierre, a Carnival
fete, and Friday on the Avenue.
Paris is reeling, yes—but
Parisians have bounce. This
time, it’s not “Je suis Charlie.”
translated: “I’m out and liming.”
But the shadow is there—on
Paris, but also on last week’s
G20 summit in Turkey, and the
Asia-Pacific Economic Co-oper-
ation meeting in the Philppines.
Environmentalist marches and
public protests are now banned
for the climate summit.
The French president, François
Hollande, was whisked out of
the football stadium. He called a
cabinet meeting and declared an
emergency. France closed its
On Monday, he addressed a
special sitting of both houses of
parliament at the Palace of Ver-
sailles, just outside Paris. That
has happened only twice since
He began: "France is at war."
And he ended with: "Terrorism
will not destroy the Republic; it
is the Republic that will destroy
Next day, he invoked Article
42.7 of the European Union
treaty, which requires all mem-
ber states to assist when one of
them is under attack.
OK; but that’s the easy bit.
How, exactly, do we meet the
threat? With force alone?
French air strikes have hit
Raqqa and other targets. The
aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
speeded to the eastern Mediter-
ranean. Russia, Britain and
America launched air strikes too.
There’s every chance of dislodg-
ing Isis from the cities and
highways it controls.
After 9-11, America knocked
out the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan. But 15 years on,
that country is in turmoil. A
head-to-head military defeat
does not end terrorism.
Meanwhile, there are refugees.
So far this year, 670,000 have
travelled to Greece by sea—and
that’s just one of the routes into
Most are not terrorists; indeed,
they are fleeing terrorism. But
the bad guys can hide in the
flow. Greece has neither the
funds nor the manpower for
The sheer strain of refugee
numbers has split European
opinion. Heightened fear of Isis
has hardened hearts against
those fleeing its terror. Angela
Merkel is under anti-refugee
pressure from her traditional ally,
a Catholic party which domi-
The danger is not just closed
borders, it is closed minds.
France has two traditions.
There is the tradition of the
French Revolution and 1789—
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; sec-
ularism and the Marseillaise.
And there’s the tradition of
the pre-revolutionary Bourbon
monarchy, the collaborationist
Vichy regime during WWII, and
the bloody war against Algerian
Check that classic of French
literature, Asterix and the Great
Divide. A huge ditch has been
dug through the village. The
right hand side is controlled by
Majestix, the left by Cleverdix.
Beyond its walls, the village is
threatened by Roman legions.
Right now, we have the liber-
al-minded government of
François Hollande. There’s a tra-
ditionalist centre-right opposi-
tion, led by former president
But first place in most opinion
polls now goes to Marine Le
Pen, the anti-foreigner French
analogue of America’s tea-party
Republicans. Isis has just slipped
a couple of aces into her hand.
The climate is changing in
more ways than one. And the
temperature outlook is not nice.
WHY PARIS? WHY NOW? AND WHAT’S NEXT?
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